LILAC: Andrew Francis, Hilary Sommerlad: Access to legal work experience — lessons for legal education

by Paul Maharg on 29/01/2010

[Not quite live bloggingroom had no wireless access…]  Arrived late: too much talk and coffee.  Initial focus was examining students in their second year of an undergraduate law degree.  55.4% had some form of legal work experience; 45.9 of post 92 students had had work experience, compared to 66.4% of pre 92 institution students.  There are strong associations between work experience at years 10/11, securing 360 + points and attending the pre-92 institution.  Students with connection in the profession were twice as likely to have secured work experience at an early stage (year 10/11).  Michael quoted Deborah ??? on the sense of inevitability that middle-class students have about their sense of direction and opportunities in the professional workplace.  

It would appear that work experience is given informally (only 8% of the entire sample were refused work experience – but certain categories of students didn’t apply, or were too nervous to approach key people).  Should informal work experience be engaged in before university?  Should it be part of Widening Participation projects?  Such work experience is overwhelmingly positive, and a case could be made out for it to be given a higher profile than it has at present. 

What firms were looking for as regards trainees depended on the firm’s profile, and also on what the firm itself wanted in terms of mirroring profile: a form of narcissism, one might call it (my phrase, not Hilary's) called ‘business fit’, but of course this is dependent not just on present firm culture but where the firm sees itself in its peer structure, and what it sees itself becoming.

What can legal education do?  Employability skills are useful, but is it just a question of demonstrating it on a form?  No, it’s about doing it in the informal work experience.  Regarding identity, Michael quoted Bourdieu on the habitus of the office.  Thoughtful, well presented session; but I have doubts about some of the methodology.  More in a moment on that.  

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